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<i>Honky Tonk University</i>, a Winner for Toby Keith


Multi-million-selling Country superstar Toby Keith has found a simple approach to his success. He gives his fans what they want and doesn't submit to record company politics. Now 12 years into his career, the formula seems to be working well. His latest release is Honky Tonk University.

Toby Keith could be the dean of "Honky Tonk University." The album's title song was inspired by his own life, acknowledging where he began singing many years ago in his grandmother's nightclub on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. Honky Tonk U is Toby's ninth studio album, and his fourth to debut at Number One on Billboard's Country Albums chart.

Toby wrote or co-wrote all 12 of the tracks for his new CD. When asked what he wants listeners to get from his songs, Toby says, "People tend to over-analyze what the guts of the song says. If they'd take the thing and the concept and grasp it and put their own - apply it to their life, that's what they do. That's what music does a lot of the time."

Among the guests who appear on Honky Tonk University are former members of the late Waylon Jennings' band and one of Toby's biggest musical influences, Merle Haggard. Haggard joined him in the studio to record "She Ain't Hooked On Me No More," one of nine songs Toby wrote with his long-time songwriting partner Scotty Emerick.

There are no political anthems on his latest collection, unlike some of Toby's albums, released following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. He showed his strong support for our military troops in songs like "American Soldier", and the controversial hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."

Toby spent the first six years of his recording career on Mercury Records. His first single, "Should've Been A Cowboy," flew to the top of the Country chart. Many other hits followed, but Toby grew more and more frustrated by the label's control. In 1999, Mercury executives rejected his album How Do You Like Me Now.

"They wanted me to be Nashville's poster boy," he said. "'Should've Been A Cowboy' was such a non-confrontational, middle-of-the-road, easy mark for them that they said, 'Hey, here comes our newest, latest, greatest, flavor-of-the-month.' When I finally reached a point where it was too late to be their poster boy and I was through compromising, I said, 'you know what, I'm the captain of my ship and it's sinking."

Toby first took control of his career by switching to DreamWorks Records, which is run by his producer James Stroud. The label released How Do You Like Me Now and Toby's next three multi-million-selling albums. Since moving to DreamWorks, Toby has sold more than 15 million albums in the United States.

Toby recently performed his third USO tour, visiting troops in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Germany, Belgium and the Middle East. A live segment from his show in Mosul was shown during the May 17 Academy of Country Music Awards. Toby will spend the next three months promoting his new album on his "Big Throwdown II" tour. Country star Lee Ann Womack and Shooter Jennings, son of the late Country legend Waylon Jennings, will join him on the outing.

When asked about his future plans, Toby says he'd like to branch out into other creative areas, including Hollywood.

"I've wanted to be involved in soundtracks for years," he says. "If you give me a direction, I can be very creative and probably at my best."

Toby is also entertaining the idea of starting his own record label when his contract with DreamWorks expires.

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